The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage. NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The business world was a-twitter with the exit of two major corporate executives.
Sallie Krawcheck was let go from Bank of America's ( BAC) wealth management unit. Carol Bartz was fired from Yahoo! ( YHOO), getting the bad news in a pre-scripted telephone call. Krawcheck and Bartz have both been lauded as superstars with proven records of success in other companies. Their demise offers lessons that other chief executives would be wise to learn.That includes Michele Bachmann, would-be Republican nominee for President. At first blush, running the country may not seem much like running a corporation. But leadership is leadership, and the cutthroat cultures of national politics and big business have much in common. Just as corporate executives can learn from politicians' mistakes, political candidates can benefit from observing how the business community evaluates its leaders, and which leaders survive to work another day.
1. Gender matters. People pretend America has gotten past sexism, but the simple fact that a woman leader is a woman is never ignored. If you doubt it, search news stories about Bartz and Krawcheck. On the surface, the two don't have a lot in common -- they're from different industries, they came up by different career paths, they're more than a decade apart in age -- but every other story pairs them because they're, well, women. Women represent only 3% of top management in Fortune 500 companies, so their demise is being heralded as proof that high-powered women are treated differently than their male counterparts. As a professional woman friend quipped, throughout her career she's often been the only woman in the room. By definition, everybody noticed her and came quickly to judgment if she had an off day. What does this mean for candidate Bachmann? Simply that she's the only woman in the Republican field and, like it or not, she'll be scrutinized more closely. She'll also be evaluated differently -- her physical appearance will be more important to voters than it would be if she were male. (When French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was appointed head of the International Monetary Fund, it took the press less than a day to start covering her wardrobe.) Bachmann should recognize that voters may be too busy looking at her to listen to her and work that much harder to get her message across.
2. Feisty only goes so far. "Feisty" is one of those words that's rarely applied to men but frequently gets tacked onto outspoken women. Carol Bartz was famous for her "feistiness," and was regularly quoted by reporters who loved her memorable bon mots. (Yes, she did refer to Yahoo!'s board as a "bunch of doofuses.") The line between being "feisty" and being a full-blown crackpot can be razor-thin. People enjoy colorful characters, but that doesn't mean they want them at the head of a company -- or the nation. Michele Bachmann would be wise to reevaluate her own feistiness. She's let fly a series of outrageous quotes of late. Did she really mean to suggest that God created swine flu to punish America for electing Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton? Does she honestly believe that carbon dioxide isn't poisonous? Bachmann is drawing media attention but, in the process, is making herself ridiculous. If she's seriously interested in being elected, she'd be wise to come off as a little less "feisty" and a little more Presidential. 3. You've got to have a plan. Carol Bartz and Sallie Krawcheck both came to their jobs with great reputations. Much was expected of them but, apparently, they failed to achieve. Bartz's shortcomings have been more publicly chronicled than Krawcheck's, and reportedly include an inability to recognize opportunities or to develop and execute a plan for success. It's easy to criticize someone else's ideas, far more difficult to develop a positive vision and bring it to life. Thus far, Michele Bachmann has bluntly criticized her opponents' proposals but has said precious little about what she would do as President. That means voters only know what they won't get if Bachmann is elected, not what they will. Unless she develops and can articulate a meaningful plan to fix America's problems, Michele Bachmann will remain an interesting personality, but not a viable candidate. 4. Outsiders rarely prosper. Being an "outsider" has come to be a perceived advantage, but it rarely yields positive results. Outsiders often don't understand culture and their efforts to bring positive change can run into massive resistance if they ruffle too many feathers. Bartz and Krawcheck both came to their latest positions as "outsiders." They were heralded as bringing much-needed fresh perspective when appointed, but apparently failed to win over the resistance.
Michele Bachmann loves to portray herself as an outsider, apparently intending to ride a wave of "throw the bums out" popular sentiment all the way to the White House. What she fails to recognize, however, is that anyone who becomes President has to deal with Congress and tens of thousands of career regulators. Not knowing where the boundaries are, she'll be that much more likely to offend. It's not easy for a President to govern under the best of circumstances, but it's nearly impossible when other powerful, egocentric politicians decide they're offended enough to actively obstruct the President's efforts. 5. Listen to your mentors. Bartz and Krawcheck are both smart people who undoubtedly had good advice at their fingertips. Whether they failed to listen or couldn't follow through is unclear. If Michele Bachmann is smart, her team should include one or two thoughtful naysayers who'll let her know when she goes too far. Then, she'd be smart to listen to their advice. Nobody knows everything, and people who think they do rarely prosper in the long run. So far, America has never had a woman President. If Michele Bachmann wants to be the first, now would be a good time to look at what happened to Bartz and Krawcheck and adjust her strategy accordingly.